Look Back in Annoyance

A year of capital-city pretensions and "Untitled Turkeys"

One of my goals for 2002 is to write a positive review of a show at the DMA. To manage this, I'll need some help; the DMA must abandon its current ostrich act and come to terms with its legacy. It must pick up where former DMA director Rick Brettell left off in Now/Then/Again, the DMA's 1988 show, which attempted to make sense of the museum's permanent collection. As Brettell noted, the DMA has "consciously followed the leads set in the cultural capital of America. This decision was clearly made to communicate to the world that Dallas, Texas, was not a provincial place..." Current administration policy seems to be to continue in this vein, to serve up received art-world wisdom with a distasteful combination of reverence and pedantry. The result, too often, is a wild careening among contradictory goals, now pandering to public tastes (e.g., Mexican folk art), now educating the rubes (e.g., Joseph Beuys), now advertising Dallas' elan (e.g., Henry Moore, Wolfgang Laib). The DMA must stop condescending to its audience, must jettison the timid, jargon-laden scholarship, must make its shows and publications smart, accessible and provocative. It should go over to MAMFW for a course in remedial exhibition-mounting.

Alas, even MAMFW was not perfect. Although its Ed Ruscha show was a runner-up for best museum exhibition, and its Ruscha catalog takes the year's top honors, it gets a big raspberry and a runner-up worst for devoting half its exhibition space to the work of Trenton Doyle Hancock. Despite his status as the art world's hot young exotic, Hancock remains a true visual lightweight, and MAMFW does him no favors by refusing to acknowledge this bit of affirmative action or to evaluate him as what he is: a very young, very green artist working in time-honored black aesthetic traditions.

In between the best and worst was a spate of missed opportunities. Chief among these was the McKinney Avenue Contemporary's Frank Reaugh show, a well-intentioned effort that, contrary to the organizer's claims, demonstrated the weakness of Texas' artistic past. Another disappointment came from the Kimbell Museum, whose blockbuster, European Masterpieces: Six Centuries of Paintings From the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, was rich in robber-baron booty, especially portraits, but very poor at fitting the mugs into a coherent art-historical narrative. The result was an exhibition desperately seeking Sister Wendy. But the biggest purveyor of missed ops was the new Meadows Museum, both for its unimaginative design and for its inaugural exhibition of Santiago Calatrava's architectural models.

The Calatrava exhibit was yet another promotional job masquerading as an exhibition, only this time the soap flakes took the form of Calatrava's vaguely surrealist visions, Calatrava being, of course, the architect from whom Dallas' Powers That Be have all but commissioned a series of bridges to span the Trinity. And too bad, for there were plenty of legitimate art-historical excuses to do a Calatrava show, and the Meadows, with its rich trove of Spanish old masters, was uniquely positioned to analyze Calatrava's architecture in terms of Spanish art and intellectual history.

And so to 2002, when I hope to make it to a wider range of venues and to write more positive reviews--within reason--and to see more homeywork, venturing into regionalism beyond the confines of the MAC and Pillsbury and Peters Fine Art. I intend to tackle a few big fish as well, ex-pats made good and homeboys gone bad and all manner of others in between. Until then, to old acquaintance and all that rot.

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